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The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. by Washington Irving

Part 5 out of 7

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and better, and I can truly say, with one of our old poets,

"`I like them well: the curious preciseness
And all-pretended gravity of those
That seek to banish hence these harmless sports,
Have thrust away much ancient honesty.'"

"The nation," continued he, "is altered; we have almost lost our
simple true-hearted peasantry. They have broken asunder from the
higher classes, and seem to think their interests are separate.
They have become too knowing, and begin to read newspapers,
listen to ale-house politicians, and talk of reform. I think one
mode to keep them in good-humor in these hard times would be for
the nobility and gentry to pass more time on their estates,
mingle more among the country-people, and set the merry old
English games going again."

* "An English gentleman, at the opening of the great day--i.e. on
Christmas Day in the morning--had all his tenants and neighbors
enter his hall by daybreak. The strong beer was broached, and the
black-jacks went plentifully about, with toast, sugar and nutmeg,
and good Cheshire cheese. The Hackin (the great sausage) must be
boiled by daybreak, or else two young men must take the maiden
(i.e. the cook) by the arms and run her round the market-place
till she is shamed of her laziness."--Round about our Sea-Coal

Such was the good squire's project for mitigating public
discontent: and, indeed, he had once attempted to put his
doctrine in practice, and a few years before had kept open house
during the holidays in the old style. The country-people,
however, did not understand how to play their parts in the scene
of hospitality; many uncouth circumstances occurred; the manor
was overrun by all the vagrants of the country, and more beggars
drawn into the neighborhood in one week than the parish officers
could get rid of in a year. Since then he had contented himself
with inviting the decent part of the neighboring peasantry to
call at the hall on Christmas Day, and with distributing beef,
and bread, and ale among the poor, that they might make merry in
their own dwellings.

We had not been long home when the sound of music was heard from
a distance. A band of country lads, without coats, their
shirt-sleeves fancifully tied with ribbons, their hats decorated
with greens, and clubs in their hands, was seen advancing up the
avenue, followed by a large number of villagers and peasantry.
They stopped before the hall door, where the music struck up a
peculiar air, and the lads performed a curious and intricate
dance, advancing, retreating, and striking their clubs together,
keeping exact time to the music; while one, whimsically crowned
with a fox's skin, the tail of which flaunted down his back, kept
capering round the skirts of the dance and rattling a Christmas
box with many antic gesticulations.

The squire eyed this fanciful exhibition with great interest and
delight, and gave me a full account of its origin, which he
traced to the times when the Romans held possession of the
island, plainly proving that this was a lineal descendant of the
sword dance of the ancients. "It was now," he said, "nearly
extinct, but he had accidentally met with traces of it in the
neighborhood, and had encouraged its revival; though, to tell the
truth, it was too apt to be followed up by the rough cudgel play
and broken heads in the evening."

After the dance was concluded the whole party was entertained
with brawn and beef and stout home-brewed. The squire himself
mingled among the rustics, and was received with awkward
demonstrations of deference and regard. It is true I perceived
two or three of the younger peasants, as they were raising their
tankards to their mouths, when the squire's back was turned
making something of a grimace, and giving each other the wink;
but the moment they caught my eye they pulled grave faces and
were exceedingly demure. With Master Simon, however, they all
seemed more at their ease. His varied occupations and amusements
had made him well known throughout the neighborhood. He was a
visitor at every farmhouse and cottage, gossiped with the farmers
and their wives, romped with their daughters, and, like that type
of a vagrant bachelor, the humblebee, tolled the sweets from all
the rosy lips of the country round.

The bashfulness of the guests soon gave way before good cheer and
affability. There is something genuine and affectionate in the
gayety of the lower orders when it is excited by the bounty and
familiarity of those above them; the warm glow of gratitude
enters into their mirth, and a kind word or a small pleasantry
frankly uttered by a patron gladdens the heart of the dependant
more than oil and wine. When the squire had retired the merriment
increased, and there was much joking and laughter, particularly
between Master Simon and a hale, ruddy-faced, white-headed farmer
who appeared to be the wit of the village; for I observed all his
companions to wait with open months for his retorts, and burst
into a gratuitous laugh before they could well understand them.

The whole house indeed seemed abandoned to merriment: as I passed
to my room to dress for dinner, I heard the sound of music in a
small court, and, looking through a window that commanded it, I
perceived a band of wandering musicians with pandean pipes and
tambourine; a pretty coquettish housemaid was dancing a jig with
a smart country lad, while several of the other servants were
looking on. In the midst of her sport the girl caught a glimpse
of my face at the window, and, coloring up, ran off with an air
of roguish affected confusion.


Lo, now is come our joyful'st feast!
Let every man be jolly.
Eache roome with yvie leaves is drest,
And every post with holly.
Now all our neighbours' chimneys smoke,
And Christmas blocks are burning;
Their ovens they with bak't meats choke
And all their spits are turning.
Without the door let sorrow lie,
And if, for cold, it hap to die,
Wee'l bury 't in a Christmas pye,
And evermore be merry.
WITHERS, Jnveilia.

I HAD finished my toilet, and was loitering with Frank
Bracebridge in the library, when we heard a distant thwacking
sound, which he informed me was a signal for the serving up of
the dinner. The squire kept up old customs in kitchen as well as
hall, and the rolling-pin, struck upon the dresser by the cook,
summoned the servants to carry in the meats.

Just in this nick the cook knock'd thrice,
And all the waiters in a trice
His summons did obey;
Each serving-man, with dish in hand,
March'd boldly up, like our train-band,
Presented and away.*

* Sir John Suckling.

The dinner was served up in the great hall, where the squire
always held his Christmas banquet. A blazing crackling fire of
logs had been heaped on to warm the spacious apartment, and the
flame went sparkling and wreathing up the wide-mouthed chimney.
The great picture of the crusader and his white horse had been
profusely decorated with greens for the occasion, and holly and
ivy had like-wise been wreathed round the helmet and weapons on
the opposite wall, which I understood were the arms of the same
warrior. I must own, by the by, I had strong doubts about the
authenticity of the painting and armor as having belonged to the
crusader, they certainly having the stamp of more recent days;
but I was told that the painting had been so considered time out
of mind; and that as to the armor, it had been found in a
lumber-room and elevated to its present situation by the squire,
who at once determined it to be the armor of the family hero; and
as he was absolute authority on all such subjects in his own
household, the matter had passed into current acceptation. A
sideboard was set out just under this chivalric trophy, on which
was a display of plate that might have vied (at least in variety)
with Belshazzar's parade of the vessels of the temple: "flagons,
cans, cups, beakers, goblets, basins, and ewers," the gorgeous
utensils of good companionship that had gradually accumulated
through many generations of jovial housekeepers. Before these
stood the two Yule candles, beaming like two stars of the first
magnitude; other lights were distributed in branches, and the
whole array glittered like a firmament of silver.

We were ushered into this banqueting scene with the sound of
minstrelsy, the old harper being seated on a stool beside the
fireplace and twanging, his instrument with a vast deal more
power than melody. Never did Christmas board display a more
goodly and gracious assemblage of countenances; those who were
not handsome were at least happy, and happiness is a rare
improver of your hard-favored visage. I always consider an old
English family as well worth studying as a collection of
Holbein's portraits or Albert Durer's prints. There is much
antiquarian lore to be acquired, much knowledge of the
physiognomies of former times. Perhaps it may be from having
continually before their eyes those rows of old family portraits,
with which the mansions of this country are stocked; certain it
is that the quaint features of antiquity are often most
faithfully perpetuated in these ancient lines, and I have traced
an old family nose through a whole picture-gallery, legitimately
handed down from generation to generation almost from the time of
the Conquest. Something of the kind was to be observed in the
worthy company around me. Many of their faces had evidently
originated in a Gothic age, and been merely copied by succeeding
generations; and there was one little girl in particular, of
staid demeanor, with a high Roman nose and an antique vinegar
aspect, who was a great favorite of the squire's, being, as he
said, a Bracebridge all over, and the very counterpart of one of
his ancestors who figured in the court of Henry VIII.

The parson said grace, which was not a short familiar one, such
as is commonly addressed to the Deity in these unceremonious
days, but a long, courtly, well-worded one of the ancient school.
There was now a pause, as if something was expected, when
suddenly the butler entered the hall with some degree of bustle:
he was attended by a servant on each side with a large wax-light,
and bore a silver dish on which was an enormous pig's head
decorated with rosemary, with a lemon in its mouth, which was
placed with great formality at the head of the table. The moment
this pageant made its appearance the harper struck up a flourish;
at the conclusion of which the young Oxonian, on receiving a hint
from the squire, gave, with an air of the most comic gravity, an
old carol, the first verse of which was as follows

Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino.
The boar's head in hand bring I,
With garlands gay and rosemary.
I pray you all synge merily
Qui estis in convivio.

Though prepared to witness many of these little eccentricities,
from being apprised of the peculiar hobby of mine host, yet I
confess the parade with which so odd a dish was introduced
somewhat perplexed me, until I gathered from the conversation of
the squire and the parson that it was meant to represent the
bringing in of the boar's head, a dish formerly served up with
much ceremony and the sound of minstrelsy and song at great
tables on Christmas Day. "I like the old custom," said the
squire, "not merely because it is stately and pleasing in itself,
but because it was observed at the college at Oxford at which I
was educated. When I hear the old song chanted it brings to mind
the time when I was young and gamesome, and the noble old college
hall, and my fellow-students loitering about in their black
gowns; many of whom, poor lads! are now in their graves."

The parson, however, whose mind was not haunted by such
associations, and who was always more taken up with the text than
the sentiment, objected to the Oxonian's version of the carol,
which he affirmed was different from that sung at college. He
went on, with the dry perseverance of a commentator, to give the
college reading, accompanied by sundry annotations, addressing
himself at first to the company at large; but, finding their
attention gradually diverted to other talk and other objects, he
lowered his tone as his number of auditors diminished, until he
concluded his remarks in an under voice to a fat-headed old
gentleman next him who was silently engaged in the discussion of
a huge plateful of turkey.*

* The old ceremony of serving up the boar's head on Christmas Day
is still observed in the hall of Queen's College, Oxford. I was
favored by the parson with a copy of the carol as now sung, and
as it may be acceptable to such of my readers as are curious in
these grave and learned matters, I give it entire:

The boar's head in hand bear I,
Bodeck'd with bays and rosemary

The table was literally loaded with good cheer, and presented an
epitome of country abundance in this season of overflowing
larders. A distinguished post was allotted to "ancient sirloin,"
as mine host termed it, being, as he added, "the standard of old
English hospitality, and a joint of goodly presence, and full of
expectation." There were several dishes quaintly decorated, and
which had evidently something traditional in their
embellishments, but about which, as I did not like to appear
overcurious, I asked no questions.

I could not, however, but notice a pie magnificently decorated
with peacock's feathers, in imitation of the tail of that bird,
which overshadowed a considerable tract of the table. This, the
squire confessed with some little hesitation, was a pheasant pie,
though a peacock pie was certainly the most authentical; but
there had been such a mortality among the peacocks this season
that he could not prevail upon himself to have one killed.*

And I pray you, my masters, be merry
Quot estis in convivio
Caput apri defero,
Reddens laudes domino.

The boar's head, as I understand,
Is the rarest dish in all this land,
Which thus bedeck'd with a gay garland
Let us servire cantico.
Caput apri defero, etc.

Our steward hath provided this
In honor of the King of Bliss,
Which on this day to be served is
In Reginensi Atrio.
Caput apri defero, etc., etc., etc.

* The peacock was anciently in great demand for stately
entertainments. Sometimes it was made into a pie, at one end of
which the head appeared above the crust in all its plumage, with
the beak richly gilt; at the other end the tail was displayed.
Such pies were served up at the solemn banquets of chivalry, when
knights-errant pledged themselves to undertake any perilous
enterprise, whence came the ancient oath, used by Justice
Shallow, "by cock and pie."

The peacock was also an important dish for the Christmas feast;
and Massinger, in his "City Madam," gives some idea of the
extravagance with which this, as well as other dishes, was
prepared for the gorgeous revels of the olden times:

Men may talk of Country Christmasses,
Their thirty pound butter'd eggs, their pies of carps' tongues;
Their pheasants drench'd with ambergris: the carcases of three
fat wethers bruised for gravy to make sauce for a single peacock!

It would be tedious, perhaps, to my wiser readers, who may not
have that foolish fondness for odd and obsolete things to which I
am a little given, were I to mention the other makeshifts or this
worthy old humorist, by which he was endeavoring to follow up,
though at humble distance, the quaint customs of antiquity. I was
pleased, however, to see the respect shown to his whims by his
children and relatives; who, indeed, entered readily into the
full spirit of them, and seemed all well versed in their parts,
having doubtless been present at many a rehearsal. I was amused,
too, at the air of profound gravity with which the butler and
other servants executed the duties assigned them, however
eccentric. They had an old-fashioned look, having, for the most
part, been brought up in the household and grown into keeping
with the antiquated mansion and the humors of its lord, and most
probably looked upon all his whimsical regulations as the
established laws of honorable housekeeping.

When the cloth was removed the butler brought in a huge silver
vessel of rare and curious workmanship, which he placed before
the squire. Its appearance was hailed with acclamation, being the
Wassail Bowl, so renowned in Christmas festivity. The contents
had been prepared by the squire himself; for it was a beverage in
the skilful mixture of which he particularly prided himself,
alleging that it was too abstruse and complex for the
comprehension of an ordinary servant. It was a potation, indeed,
that might well make the heart of a toper leap within him, being
composed of the richest and raciest wines, highly spiced and
sweetened, with roasted apples bobbing about the surface.*

* The Wassail Bowl was sometimes composed of ale instead of wine,
with nutmeg, sugar, toast, ginger, and roasted crabs; in this way
the nut-brown beverage is still prepared in some old families and
round the hearths of substantial farmers at Christmas. It is also
called Lamb's Wool, and is celebrated by Herrick in his "Twelfth

Next crowne the bowle full
With gentle Lamb's Wool;
Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
With store of ale too,
And thus ye must doe
To make the Wassaile a swinger.

The old gentleman's whole countenance beamed with a serene look
of indwelling delight as he stirred this mighty bowl. Having
raised it to his lips, with a hearty wish of a merry Christmas to
all present, he sent it brimming round the board, for every one
to follow his example, according to the primitive style,
pronouncing it "the ancient fountain of good feeling, where all
hearts met together."+

+ "The custom of drinking out of the same cup gave place to each
having his cup. When the steward came to the doore with the
Wassel, he was to cry three times, Wassel, Wassel, Wassel, and
then the chappell (chaplain) was to answer with a

There was much laughing and rallying as the honest emblem of
Christmas joviality circulated and was kissed rather coyly by the
ladies. When it reached Master Simon, he raised it in both hands,
and with the air of a boon companion struck up an old Wassail

The brown bowle,
The merry brown bowle,
As it goes round-about-a,
Let the world say what it will,
And drink your fill all out-a.

The deep canne,
The merry deep canne,
As thou dost freely quaff-a,
Be as merry as a king,
And sound a lusty laugh-a.*

* From Poor Robin's Almanack.

Much of the conversation during dinner turned upon family topics,
to which I was a stranger. There was, however, a great deal of
rallying of Master Simon about some gay widow with whom he was
accused of having a flirtation. This attack was commenced by the
ladies, but it was continued throughout the dinner by the
fat-headed old gentleman next the parson with the persevering
assiduity of a slow hound, being one of those long-winded jokers
who, though rather dull at starting game, are unrivalled for
their talents in hunting it down. At every pause in the general
conversation he renewed his bantering in pretty much the same
terms, winking hard at me with both eyes whenever he gave Master
Simon what he considered a home thrust. The latter, indeed,
seemed fond of being teased on the subject, as old bachelors are
apt to be, and he took occasion to inform me, in an undertone,
that the lady in question was a prodigiously fine woman and drove
her own curricle.

The dinner-time passe away in this flow of innocent hilarity,
and, though the old hall may have resounded in its time with many
a scene of broader rout and revel, yet I doubt whether it ever
witnessed more honest and genuine enjoyment. How easy it is for
one benevolent being to diffuse pleasure around him! and how
truly is a kind heart a fountain of gladness, making everything
in its vicinity to freshen into smiles! The joyous disposition of
the worthy squire was perfectly contagious; he was happy himself,
and disposed to make all the world happy, and the little
eccentricities of his humor did but season, in a manner, the
sweetness of his philanthropy.

When the ladies had retired, the conversation, as usual, became
still more animated; many good things were broached which had
been thought of during dinner, but which would not exactly do for
a lady's ear; and, though I cannot positively affirm that there
was much wit uttered, yet I have certainly heard many contests of
rare wit produce much less laughter. Wit, after all, is a mighty
tart, pungent ingredient, and much too acid for some stomachs;
but honest good-humor is the oil and wine of a merry meeting, and
there is no jovial companionship equal to that where the jokes
are rather small and the laughter abundant.

The squire told several long stories of early college pranks and
adventures, in some of which the parson had been a sharer, though
in looking at the latter it required some effort of imagination
to figure such a little dark anatomy of a man into the
perpetrator of a madcap gambol. Indeed, the two college chums
presented pictures of what men may be made by their different
lots in life. The squire had left the university to live lustily
on his paternal domains in the vigorous enjoyment of prosperity
and sunshine, and had flourished on to a hearty and florid old
age; whilst the poor parson, on the contrary, had dried and
withered away among dusty tomes in the silence and shadows of his
study. Still, there seemed to be a spark of almost extinguished
fire feebly glimmering in the bottom of his soul; and as the
squire hinted at a sly story of the parson and a pretty milkmaid
whom they once met on the banks of the Isis, the old gentleman
made an "alphabet of faces," which, as far as I could decipher
his physiognomy, I verily believe was indicative of laughter;
indeed, I have rarely met with an old gentleman that took
absolute offence at the imputed gallantries of his youth.

I found the tide of wine and wassail fast gaining on the dry land
of sober judgment. The company grew merrier and louder as their
jokes grew duller. Master Simon was in as chirping a humor as a
grasshopper filled with dew; his old songs grew of a warmer
complexion, and he began to talk maudlin about the widow. He even
gave a long song about the wooing of a widow which he informed me
he had gathered from an excellent black-letter work entitled
Cupid's Solicitor for Love, containing store of good advice for
bachelors, and which he promised to lend me; the first verse was
to effect.

He that will woo a widow must not dally
He must make hay while the sun doth shine;
He must not stand with her, shall I, shall I,
But boldly say, Widow, thou must be mine.

This song inspired the fat-headed old gentleman, who made several
attempts to tell a rather broad story out of Joe Miller that was
pat to the purpose; but he always stuck in the middle, everybody
recollecting the latter part excepting himself. The parson, too,
began to show the effects of good cheer, having gradually settled
down into a doze and his wig sitting most suspiciously on one
side. Just at this juncture we were summoned to the drawing room,
and I suspect, at the private instigation of mine host, whose
joviality seemed always tempered with a proper love of decorum.

After the dinner-table was removed the hall was given up to the
younger members of the family, who, prompted to all kind of noisy
mirth by the Oxonian and Master Simon, made its old walls ring
with their merriment as they played at romping games. I delight
in witnessing the gambols of children, and particularly at this
happy holiday season, and could not help stealing out of the
drawing-room on hearing one of their peals of laughter. I found
them at the game of blindman's-buff. Master Simon, who was the
leader of their revels, and seemed on all occasions to fulfill
the office of that ancient potentate, the Lord of Misrule,* was
blinded in the midst of the hall. The little beings were as busy
about him as the mock fairies about Falstaff, pinching him,
plucking at the skirts of his coat, and tickling him with straws.
One fine blue-eyed girl of about thirteen, with her flaxen hair
all in beautiful confusion, her frolic face in a glow, her frock
half torn off her shoulders, a complete picture of a romp, was
the chief tormentor; and, from the slyness with which Master
Simon avoided the smaller game and hemmed this wild little nymph
in corners, and obliged her to jump shrieking over chairs, I
suspected the rogue of being not a whit more blinded than was

* At Christmasse there was in the Kinges house, wheresoever hee
was lodged, a lorde of misrule or mayster of merie disportes, and
the like had ye in the house of every nobleman of honor, or good
worshipper were he spirituall or temporall.--STOW.

When I returned to the drawing-room I found the company seated
round the fire listening to the parson, who was deeply ensconced
in a high-backed oaken chair, the work of some cunning artificer
of yore, which had been brought from the library for his
particular accommodation. From this venerable piece of furniture,
with which his shadowy figure and dark weazen face so admirably
accorded, he was dealing out strange accounts of the popular
superstitions and legends of the surrounding country, with which
he had become acquainted in the course of his antiquarian
researches. I am half inclined to think that the old gentleman
was himself somewhat tinctured with superstition, as men are very
apt to be who live a recluse and studious life in a sequestered
part of the country and pore over black-letter tracts, so often
filled with the marvelous and supernatural. He gave us several
anecdotes of the fancies of the neighboring peasantry concerning
the effigy of the crusader which lay on the tomb by the church
altar. As it was the only monument of the kind in that part of
the country, it had always been regarded with feelings of
superstition by the good wives of the village. It was said to get
up from the tomb and walk the rounds of the churchyard in stormy
nights, particularly when it thundered; and one old woman, whose
cottage bordered on the churchyard, had seen it through the
windows of the church, when the moon shone, slowly pacing up and
down the aisles. It was the belief that some wrong had been left
unredressed by the deceased, or some treasure hidden, which kept
the spirit in a state of trouble and restlessness. Some talked of
gold and jewels buried in the tomb, over which the spectre kept
watch; and there was a story current of a sexton in old times who
endeavored to break his way to the coffin at night, but just as
he reached it received a violent blow from the marble hand of the
effigy, which stretched him senseless on the pavement. These
tales were often laughed at by some of the sturdier among the
rustics, yet when night came on there were many of the stoutest
unbelievers that were shy of venturing alone in the footpath that
led across the churchyard.

From these and other anecdotes that followed the crusader
appeared to be the favorite hero of ghost-stories throughout the
vicinity. His picture, which hung up in the hall, was thought by
the servants to have something supernatural about it; for they
remarked that in whatever part of the hall you went the eyes of
the warrior were still fixed on you. The old porter's wife, too,
at the lodge, who had been born and brought up in the family, and
was a great gossip among the maid-servants, affirmed that in her
young days she had often heard say that on Midsummer Eve, when it
was well known all kinds of ghosts, goblins, and fairies become
visible and walk abroad, the crusader used to mount his horse,
come down from his picture, ride about the house, down the
avenue, and so to the church to visit the tomb; on which occasion
the church-door most civilly swung open of itself; not that he
needed it, for he rode through closed gates, and even stone
walls, and had been seen by one of the dairymaids to pass between
two bars of the great park gate, making himself as thin as a
sheet of paper.

All these superstitions I found had been very much countenanced
by the squire, who, though not superstitious himself, was very
fond of seeing others so. He listened to every goblin tale of the
neighboring gossips with infinite gravity, and held the porter's
wife in high favor on account of her talent for the marvellous.
He was himself a great reader of old legends and romances, and
often lamented that he could not believe in them; for a
superstitious person, he thought, must live in a kind of

Whilst we were all attention to the parson's stories, our ears
were suddenly assailed by a burst of heterogeneous sounds from
the hall, in which were mingled something like the clang of rude
minstrelsy with the uproar of many small voices and girlish
laughter. The door suddenly flew open, and a train came trooping
into the room that might almost have been mistaken for the
breaking up of the court of Faery. That indefatigable spirit,
Master Simon, in the faithful discharge of his duties as lord of
misrule, had conceived the idea of a Christmas mummery or
masking; and having called in to his assistance the Oxonian and
the young officer, who were equally ripe for anything that should
occasion romping and merriment, they had carried it into instant
effect. The old housekeeper had been consulted; the antique
clothespresses and wardrobes rummaged and made to yield up the
relics of finery that had not seen the light for several
generations; the younger part of the company had been privately
convened from the parlor and hall, and the whole had been
bedizened out into a burlesque imitation of an antique mask.*

* Maskings or mummeries were favorite sports at Christmas in old
times, and the wardrobes at halls and manor-houses were often
laid under contribution to furnish dresses and fantastic
disguisings. I strongly suspect Master Simon to have taken the
idea of his from Ben Jonson's "Masque of Christmas."

Master Simon led the van, as "Ancient Christmas," quaintly
apparelled in a ruff, a short cloak, which had very much the
aspect of one of the old housekeeper's petticoats, and a hat that
might have served for a village steeple, and must indubitably
have figured in the days of the Covenanters. From under this his
nose curved boldly forth, flushed with a frost-bitten bloom that
seemed the very trophy of a December blast. He was accompanied by
the blue-eyed romp, dished up, as "Dame Mince Pie," in the
venerable magnificence of a faded brocade, long stomacher, peaked
hat, and high-heeled shoes. The young officer appeared as Robin
Hood, in a sporting dress of Kendal green and a foraging cap with
a gold tassel.

The costume, to be sure, did not bear testimony to deep research,
and there was an evident eye to the picturesque, natural to a
young gallant in the presence of his mistress. The fair Julia
hung on his arm in a pretty rustic dress as "Maid Marian." The
rest of the train had been metamorphosed in various ways; the
girls trussed up in the finery of the ancient belles of the
Bracebridge line, and the striplings bewhiskered with burnt cork,
and gravely clad in broad skirts, hanging sleeves, and
full-bottomed wigs, to represent the character of Roast Beef,
Plum Pudding, and other worthies celebrated in ancient maskings.
The whole was under the control of the Oxonian in the appropriate
character of Misrule; and I observed that he exercised rather a
mischievous sway with his wand over the smaller personages of the

The irruption of this motley crew with beat of drum, according to
ancient custom, was the consummation of uproar and merriment.
Master Simon covered himself with glory by the stateliness with
which, as Ancient Christmas, he walked a minuet with the peerless
though giggling Dame Mince Pie. It was followed by a dance of all
the characters, which from its medley of costumes seemed as
though the old family portraits had skipped down from their
frames to join in the sport. Different centuries were figuring at
cross hands and right and left; the Dark Ages were cutting
pirouettes and rigadoons; and the days of Queen Bess jigging
merrily down the middle through a line of succeeding generations.

The worthy squire contemplated these fantastic sports and this
resurrection of his old wardrobe with the simple relish of
childish delight. He stood chuckling and rubbing his hands, and
scarcely hearing a word the parson said, notwithstanding that the
latter was discoursing most authentically on the ancient and
stately dance of the Pavon, or peacock, from which he conceived
the minuet to be derived.* For my part, I was in a continual
excitement from the varied scenes of whim and innocent gayety
passing before me. It was inspiring to see wild-eyed frolic and
warm-hearted hospitality breaking out from among the chills and
glooms of winter, and old age throwing off his apathy and
catching once more the freshness of youthful enjoyment. I felt
also an interest in the scene from the consideration that these
fleeting customs were posting fast into oblivion, and that this
was perhaps the only family in England in which the whole of them
was still punctiliously observed. There was a quaintness, too,
mingled with all this revelry that gave it a peculiar zest: it
was suited to the time and place; and as the old manor-house
almost reeled with mirth and wassail, it seemed echoing back the
joviality of long departed years.+

* Sir John Hawkins, speaking of the dance called the Pavon, from
pavo, a peacock, says, "It is a grave and majestic dance; the
method of dancing it anciently was by gentlemen dressed with caps
and swords, by those of the long robe in their gowns, by the
peers in their mantles, and by the ladies in gowns with long
trains, the motion whereof, in dancing, resembled that of a
peacock."--History of Music.

+ At the time of the first publication of this paper the picture
of an old-fashioned Christmas in the country was pronounced by
some as out of date. The author had afterwards an opportunity of
witnessing almost all the customs above described, existing in
unexpected vigor in the skirts of Derbvshire and Yorkshire, where
he passed the Christmas holidays. The reader will find some
notice of them in the
author's account of his sojourn at Newstead Abbey.

But enough of Christmas and its gambols; it is
time for me to pause in this garrulity. Methinks I hear the
questions asked by my graver readers, "To what purpose is all
this? how is the world to be made wiser by this talk?" Alas! is
there not wisdom enough extant for the instruction of the world?
And if not, are there not thousands of abler pens laboring for
its improvement? It is so much pleasanter to please than to
instruct--to play the companion rather than the preceptor.

What, after all, is the mite of wisdom that I could throw into
the mass of knowledge! or how am I sure that my sagest deductions
may be safe guides for the opinions of others? But in writing to
amuse, if I fail the only evil is in my own disappointment. If,
however, I can by any lucky chance, in these days of evil, rub
out one wrinkle from the brow of care or beguile the heavy heart
of one moment of sorrow; if I can now and then penetrate through
the gathering film of misanthropy, prompt a benevolent view of
human nature, and make my reader more in good-humor with his
fellow-beings and himself--surely, surely, I shall not then have
written entirely in vain.


----I do walk
Methinks like Guide Vaux, with my dark lanthorn,
Stealing to set the town o' fire; i' th' country
I should be taken for William o' the Wisp,
Or Robin Goodfellow.

I AM somewhat of an antiquity-hunter, and am
fond of exploring London in quest of the relics of old times.
These are principally to be found in the depths of the city,
swallowed up and almost lost in a wilderness of brick and mortar,
but deriving poetical and romantic interest from the commonplace,
prosaic world around them. I was struck with an instance of the
kind in the course of a recent summer ramble into the city; for
the city is only to be explored to advantage in summer-time, when
free from the smoke and fog and rain and mud of winter. I had
been buffeting for some time against the current of population
setting through Fleet Street. The warm weather had unstrung my
nerves and made me sensitive to every jar and jostle and
discordant sound. The flesh was weary, the spirit faint, and I
was getting out of humor with the bustling busy throng through
which I had to struggle, when in a fit of desperation I tore my
way through the crowd, plunged into a by-lane, and, after passing
through several obscure nooks and angles, emerged into a quaint
and quiet court with a grassplot in the centre overhung by elms,
and kept perpetually fresh and green by a fountain with its
sparkling jet of water. A student with book in hand was seated on
a stone bench, partly reading, partly meditating on the movements
of two or three trim nursery-maids with their infant charges.

I was like an Arab who had suddenly come upon an oasis amid the
panting sterility of the desert. By degrees the quiet and
coolness of the place soothed my nerves and refreshed my spirit.
I pursued my walk, and came, hard by, to a very ancient chapel
with a low-browed Saxon portal of massive and rich architecture.
The interior was circular and lofty and lighted from above.
Around were monumental tombs of ancient date on which were
extended the marble effigies of warriors in armor. Some had the
hands devoutly crossed upon the breast; others grasped the pommel
of the sword, menacing hostility even in the tomb, while the
crossed legs of several indicated soldiers of the Faith who had
been on crusades to the Holy Land.

I was, in fact, in the chapel of the Knights Templars, strangely
situated in the very centre of sordid traffic; and I do not know
a more impressive lesson for the many of the world than thus
suddenly to turn aside from the highway of busy money-seeking
life, and sit down among these shadowy sepulchres, where all is
twilight, dust, and forget-fullness.

In a subsequent tour of observation I encountered another of
these relics of a "foregone world" locked up in the heart of the
city. I had been wandering for some time through dull monotonous
streets, destitute of anything to strike the eye or excite the
imagination, when I beheld before me a Gothic gateway of
mouldering antiquity. It opened into a spacious quadrangle
forming the courtyard of a stately Gothic pile, the portal of
which stood invitingly open.

It was apparently a public edifice, and, as I was
antiquity-hunting, I ventured in, though with dubious steps.
Meeting no one either to oppose or rebuke my intrusion, I
continued on until I found myself in a great hall with a lofty
arched roof and oaken gallery, all of Gothic architecture. At one
end of the hall was an enormous fireplace, with wooden settles on
each side; at the other end was a raised platform, or dais, the
seat of state, above which was the portrait of a man in antique
garb with a long robe, a ruff, and a venerable gray beard.

The whole establishment had an air of monastic quiet and
seclusion, and what gave it a mysterious charm was, that I had
not met with a human being since I had passed the threshold.

Encouraged by this loneliness, I seated myself in a recess of a
large bow window, which admitted a broad flood of yellow
sunshine, checkered here and there by tints from panes of colored
glass, while an open casement let in the soft summer air. Here,
leaning my bead on my hand and my arm on an old oaken table, I
indulged in a sort of reverie about what might have been the
ancient uses of this edifice. It had evidently been of monastic
origin; perhaps one of those collegiate establishments built of
yore for the promotion of learning, where the patient monk, in
the ample solitude of the cloister, added page to page and volume
to volume, emulating in the productions of his brain the
magnitude of the pile he inhabited.

As I was seated in this musing mood a small panelled door in an
arch at the upper end of the hall was opened, and a number of
gray-headed old men, clad in long black cloaks, came forth one by
one, proceeding in that manner through the hall, without uttering
a word, each turning a pale face on me as he passed, and
disappearing through a door at the lower end.

I was singularly struck with their appearance; their black cloaks
and antiquated air comported with the style of this most
venerable and mysterious pile. It was as if the ghosts of the
departed years, about which I had been musing, were passing in
review before me. Pleasing myself with such fancies, I set out,
in the spirit of romance, to explore what I pictured to myself a
realm of shadows existing in the very centre of substantial

My ramble led me through a labyrinth of interior courts and
corridors and dilapidated cloisters, for the main edifice had
many additions and dependencies, built at various times and in
various styles. In one open space a number of boys, who evidently
belonged to the establishment, were at their sports, but
everywhere I observed those mysterious old gray men in black
mantles, sometimes sauntering alone, sometimes conversing in
groups; they appeared to be the pervading genii of the place. I
now called to mind what I had read of certain colleges in old
times, where judicial astrology, geomancy, necromancy, and other
forbidden and magical sciences were taught. Was this an
establishment of the kind, and were these black-cloaked old men
really professors of the black art?

These surmises were passing through my mind as my eye glanced
into a chamber hung round with all kinds of strange and uncouth
objects--implements of savage warfare, strange idols and stuffed
alligators; bottled serpents and monsters decorated the
mantelpiece; while on the high tester of an old-fashioned
bedstead grinned a human skull, flanked on each side by a dried

I approached to regard more narrowly this mystic chamber, which
seemed a fitting laboratory for a necromancer, when I was
startled at beholding a human countenance staring at me from a
dusky corner. It was that of a small, shrivelled old man with
thin cheeks, bright eyes, and gray, wiry, projecting eyebrows. I
at first doubted whether it were not a mummy curiously preserved,
but it moved, and I saw that it was alive. It was another of
these black-cloaked old men, and, as I regarded his quaint
physiognomy, his obsolete garb, and the hideous and sinister
objects by which he was surrounded, I began to persuade myself
that I had come upon the arch-mago who ruled over this magical

Seeing me pausing before the door, he rose and invited me to
enter. I obeyed with singular hardihood, for how did I know
whether a wave of his wand might not metamorphose me into some
strange monster or conjure me into one of the bottles on his
mantelpiece? He proved, however, to be anything but a conjurer,
and his simple garrulity soon dispelled all the magic and mystery
with which I had enveloped this antiquated pile and its no less
antiquated inhabitants.

It appeared that I had made my way into the centre of an ancient
asylum for superannuated tradesmen and decayed householders, with
which was connected a school for a limited number of boys. It was
founded upwards of two centuries since on an old monastic
establishment, and retained somewhat of the conventual air and
character. The shadowy line of old men in black mantles who had
passed before me in the hall, and whom I had elevated into magi,
turned out to be the pensioners returning from morning, service
in the chapel.

John Hallum, the little collector of curiosities whom I had made
the arch magician, had been for six years a resident of the
place, and had decorated this final nestling-place of his old age
with relics and rarities picked up in the course of his life.
According to his own account, he had been somewhat of a
traveller, having been once in France, and very near making a
visit to Holland. He regretted not having visited the latter
country, "as then he might have said he had been there." He was
evidently a traveller of the simple kind.

He was aristocratical too in his notions, keeping aloof, as I
found, from the ordinary run of pensioners. His chief associates
were a blind man who spoke Latin and Greek, of both which
languages Hallum was profoundly ignorant, and a broken-down
gentleman who had run through a fortune of forty thousand pounds
left him by his father, and ten thousand pounds, the marriage
portion of his wife. Little Hallum seemed to consider it an
indubitable sign of gentle blood as well as of lofty spirit to be
able to squander such enormous sums.

P.S.--The picturesque remnant of old times into which I have thus
beguiled the reader is what is called the Charter House,
originally the Chartreuse. It was founded in 1611, on the remains
of an ancient convent, by Sir Thomas Sutton, being one of those
noble charities set on foot by individual munificence, and kept
up with the quaintness and sanctity of ancient times amidst the
modern changes and innovations of London. Here eighty broken-down
men, who have seen better days, are provided in their old age
with food, clothing, fuel, and a yearly allowance for private
expenses. They dine together, as did the monks of old, in the
hall which had been the refectory of the original convent.
Attached to the establishment is a school for forty-four boys.

Stow, whose work I have consulted on the subject, speaking of the
obligations of the gray-headed pensioners, says, "They are not to
intermeddle with any business touching the affairs of the
hospital, but to attend only to the service of God, and take
thankfully what is provided for them, without muttering,
murmuring, or grudging. None to wear weapon, long hair, colored
boots, spurs, or colored shoes, feathers in their hats, or any
ruffian-like or unseemly apparel, but such as becomes
hospital-men to wear." "And in truth," adds Stow, "happy are they
that are so taken from the cares and sorrows of the world, and
fixed in so good a place as these old men are; having nothing to
care for but the good of their souls, to serve God, and to live
in brotherly love."

For the amusement of such as have been interested by the
preceding sketch, taken down from my own observation, and who may
wish to know a little more about the mysteries of London, I
subjoin a modicum of local history put into my hands by an
odd-looking old gentleman, in a small brown wig and a
snuff-colored coat, with whom I became acquainted shortly after
my visit to the Charter House. I confess I was a little dubious
at first whether it was not one of those apocryphal tales often
passed off upon inquiring travellers like myself, and which have
brought our general character for veracity into such unmerited
reproach. On making proper inquiries, however, I have received
the most satisfactory assurances of the author's probity, and
indeed have been told that he is actually engaged in a full and
particular account of the very interesting region in which he
resides, of which the following may be considered merely as a


What I write is most true . . . . . I have a whole booke of cases
lying by me, which if I should sette foorth, some grave auntients
(within the hearing of Bow Bell) would be out of charity with me.

IN the centre of the great City of London lies a small
neighborhood, consisting of a cluster of narrow streets and
courts, of very venerable and debilitated houses, which goes by
the name of LITTLE BRITAIN. Christ Church School and St.
Bartholomew's Hospital bound it on the west; Smithfield and Long
Lane on the north; Aldersgate Street, like an arm of the sea,
divides it from the eastern part of the city; whilst the yawning
gulf of Bull-and-Mouth Street separates it from Butcher Lane and
the regions of Newgate. Over this little territory, thus bounded
and designated, the great dome of St. Paul's, swelling above the
intervening houses of Paternoster Row, Amen Corner, and Ave-Maria
Lane, looks down with an air of motherly protection.

This quarter derives its appellation from having been, in ancient
times, the residence of the Dukes of Brittany. As London
increased, however, rank and fashion rolled off to the west, and
trade, creeping on at their heels, took possession of their
deserted abodes. For some time Little Britain became the great
mart of learning, and was peopled by the busy and prolific race
of booksellers: these also gradually deserted it, and, emigrating
beyond the great strait of Newgate Street, settled down in
Paternoster Row and St. Paul's Churchyard, where they continue to
increase and multiply even at the present day.

But, though thus fallen into decline, Little Britain still bears
traces of its former splendor. There are several houses ready to
tumble down, the fronts of which are magnificently enriched with
old oaken carvings of hideous faces, unknown birds, beasts, and
fishes, and fruits and flowers which it would perplex a
naturalist to classify. There are also, in Aldersgate Street,
certain remains of what were once spacious and lordly family
mansions, but which have in latter days been subdivided into
several tenements. Here may often be found the family of a petty
tradesman, with its trumpery furniture, burrowing among the
relics of antiquated finery in great rambling time-stained
apartments with fretted ceilings, gilded cornices, and enormous
marble fireplaces. The lanes and courts also contain many smaller
houses, not on so grand a scale, but, like your small ancient
gentry, sturdily maintaining their claims to equal antiquity.
These have their gable ends to the street, great bow windows with
diamond panes set in lead, grotesque carvings, and low arched

* It is evident that the author of this interesting communication
has included, in his general title of Little Britain, man of
those little lanes and courts that belong immediately to Cloth

In this most venerable and sheltered little nest have I passed
several quiet years of existence, comfortably lodged in the
second floor of one of the smallest but oldest edifices. My
sitting-room is an old wainscoted chamber, with small panels and
set off with a miscellaneous array of furniture. I have a
particular respect for three or four high-backed, claw-footed
chairs, covered with tarnished brocade, which bear the marks of
having seen better days, and have doubtless figured in some of
the old palaces of Little Britain. They seem to me to keep
together and to look down with sovereign contempt upon their
leathern-bottomed neighbors, as I have seen decayed gentry carry
a high head among the plebeian society with which they were
reduced to associate. The whole front of my sitting-room is taken
up with a bow window, on the panes of which are recorded the
names of previous occupants for many generations, mingled with
scraps of very indifferent gentleman-like poetry, written in
characters which I can scarcely decipher, and which extol the
charms of many a beauty of Little Britain who has long, long
since bloomed, faded, and passed away. As I am an idle personage,
with no apparent occupation, and pay my bill regularly every
week, I am looked upon as the only independent gentleman of the
neighborhood, and, being curious to learn the internal state of a
community so apparently shut up within itself, I have managed to
work my way into all the concerns and secrets of the place.

Little Britain may truly be called the heart's core of the city,
the stronghold of true John Bullism. It is a fragment of London
as it was in its better days, with its antiquated folks and
fashions. Here flourish in great preservation many of the holiday
games and customs of yore. The inhabitants most religiously eat
pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, hot cross-buns on Good Friday, and
roast goose at Michaelmas; they send love-letters on Valentine's
Day, burn the Pope on the Fifth of November, and kiss all the
girls under the mistletoe at Christmas. Roast beef and
plum-pudding are also held in superstitious veneration, and port
and sherry maintain their grounds as the only true English wines,
all others being considered vile outlandish beverages.

Little Britain has its long catalogue of city wonders, which its
inhabitants consider the wonders of the world, such as the great
bell of St. Paul's, which sours all the beer when it tolls; the
figures that strike the hours at St. Dunstan's clock; the
Monument; the lions in the Tower; and the wooden giants in
Guildhall. They still believe in dreams and fortune-telling, and
an old woman that lives in Bull-and-Mouth Street makes a
tolerable subsistence by detecting stolen goods and promising the
girls good husbands. They are apt to be rendered uncomfortable by
comets and eclipses, and if a dog howls dolefully at night it is
looked upon as a sure sign of death in the place. There are even
many ghost-stories current, particularly concerning the old
mansion-houses, in several of which it is said strange sights are
sometimes seen. Lords and ladies, the former in full-bottomed
wigs, hanging sleeves, and swords, the latter in lappets, stays,
hoops, and brocade, have been seen walking up and down the great
waste chambers on moonlight nights, and are supposed to be the
shades of the ancient proprietors in their court-dresses.

Little Britain has likewise its sages and great men. One of the
most important of the former is a tall, dry old gentleman of the
name of Skryme, who keeps a small apothecary's shop. He has a
cadaverous countenance, full of cavities and projections, with a
brown circle round each eye, like a pair of horn spectacles. He
is much thought of by the old women, who consider him as a kind
of conjurer because he has two or three stuffed alligators
hanging up in his shop and several snakes in bottles. He is a
great reader of almanacs and newspapers, and is much given to
pore over alarming accounts of plots, conspiracies, fires,
earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions; which last phenomena he
considers as signs of the times. He has always some dismal tale
of the kind to deal out to his customers with their doses, and
thus at the same time puts both soul and body into an uproar. He
is a great believer in omens and predictions; and has the
prophecies of Robert Nixon and Mother Shipton by heart. No man
can make so much out of an eclipse, or even an unusually dark
day; and he shook the tail of the last comet over the heads of
his customers and disciples until they were nearly frightened out
of their wits. He has lately got hold of a popular legend or
prophecy, on which he has been unusually eloquent. There has been
a saying current among the ancient sibyls, who treasure up these
things, that when the grasshopper on the top of the Exchange
shook hands with the dragon on the top of Bow Church steeple,
fearful events would take place. This strange conjunction, it
seems, has as strangely come to pass. The same architect has been
engaged lately on the repairs of the cupola of the Exchange and
the steeple of Bow Church; and, fearful to relate, the dragon and
the grasshopper actually lie, cheek by jole, in the yard of his

"Others," as Mr. Skryme is accustomed to say, "may go
star-gazing, and look for conjunctions in the heavens, but here
is a conjunction on the earth, near at home and under our own
eyes, which surpasses all the signs and calculations of
astrologers." Since these portentous weathercocks have thus laid
their heads together, wonderful events had already occurred. The
good old king, notwithstanding that he had lived eighty-two
years, had all at once given up the ghost; another king had
mounted the throne; a royal duke had died suddenly; another, in
France, had been murdered; there had been radical meetings in all
parts of the kingdom; the bloody scenes at Manchester; the great
plot in Cato Street; and, above all, the queen had returned to
England! All these sinister events are recounted by Mr. Skyrme
with a mysterious look and a dismal shake of the head; and being
taken with his drugs, and associated in the minds of his auditors
with stuffed-sea-monsters, bottled serpents, and his own visage,
which is a title-page of tribulation, they have spread great
gloom through the minds of the people of Little Britain. They
shake their heads whenever they go by Bow Church, and observe
that they never expected any good to come of taking down that
steeple, which in old times told nothing but glad tidings, as the
history of Whittington and his Cat bears witness.

The rival oracle of Little Britain is a substantial cheesemonger,
who lives in a fragment of one of the old family mansions, and is
as magnificently lodged as a round-bellied mite in the midst of
one of his own Cheshires. Indeed, he is a man of no little
standing and importance, and his renown extends through Huggin
lane and Lad lane, and even unto Aldermanbury. His opinion is
very much taken in affairs of state, having read the Sunday
papers for the last half century, together with the Gentleman's
Magazine, Rapin's History of England, and the Naval Chronicle.
His head is stored with invaluable maxims which have borne the
test of time and use for centuries. It is his firm opinion that
"it is a moral impossible," so long as England is true to
herself, that anything can shake her: and he has much to say on
the subject of the national debt, which, somehow or other, he
proves to be a great national bulwark and blessing. He passed the
greater part of his life in the purlieus of Little Britain until
of late years, when, having become rich and grown into the
dignity of a Sunday cane, he begins to take his pleasure and see
the world. He has therefore made several excursions to Hampstead,
Highgate, and other neighboring towns, where he has passed whole
afternoons in looking back upon the metropolis through a
telescope and endeavoring to descry the steeple of St.
Bartholomew's. Not a stage-coachman of Bull-and-Mouth Street but
touches his hat as he passes, and he is considered quite a patron
at the coach-office of the Goose and Gridiron, St. Paul's
Churchyard. His family have been very urgent for him to make an
expedition to Margate, but he has great doubts of those new
gimcracks, the steamboats, and indeed thinks himself too advanced
in life to undertake sea-voyages.

Little Britain has occasionally its factions and divisions, and
party spirit ran very high at one time, in consequence of two
rival "Burial Societies" being set up in the place. One held its
meeting at the Swan and Horse-Shoe, and was patronized by the
cheesemonger; the other at the Cock and Crown, under the auspices
of the apothecary: it is needless to say that the latter was the
most flourishing. I have passed an evening or two at each, and
have acquired much valuable information as to the best mode of
being buried, the comparative merits of churchyards, together
with divers hints on the subject of patent iron coffins. I have
heard the question discussed in all its bearings as to the
legality of prohibiting the latter on account of their
durability. The feuds occasioned by these societies have happily
died of late; but they were for a long time prevailing themes of
controversy, the people of Little Britain being extremely
solicitous of funeral honors and of lying comfortably in their

Besides these two funeral societies there is a third of quite a
different cast, which tends to throw the sunshine of good-humor
over the whole neighborhood. It meets once a week at a little
old-fashioned house kept by a jolly publican of the name of
Wagstaff, and bearing for insignia a resplendent half-moon, with
a most seductive bunch of grapes. The whole edifice is covered
with inscriptions to catch the eye of the thirsty wayfarer; such
as "Truman, Hanbury, and Co's Entire," "Wine, Rum, and Brandy
Vaults," "Old Tom, Rum, and Compounds," etc. This indeed has been
a temple of Bacchus and Momus from time immemorial. It has always
been in the family of the Wagstaffs, so that its history is
tolerably preserved by the present landlord. It was much
frequented by the gallants and cavalieros of the reign of
Elizabeth, and was looked into now and then by the wits of
Charles the Second's day. But what Wagstaff principally prides
himself upon is that Henry the Eighth, in one of his nocturnal
rambles, broke the head of one of his ancestors with his famous
walking-staff. This, however, is considered as rather a dubious
and vain-glorious boast of the landlord.

The club which now holds its weekly sessions here goes by the
name of "the Roaring Lads of Little Britain." They abound in old
catches, glees, and choice stories that are traditional in the
place and not to be met with in any other part of the metropolis.
There is a madcap undertaker who is inimitable at a merry song,
but the life of the club, and indeed the prime wit of Little
Britain, is bully Wagstaff himself. His ancestors were all wags
before him, and he has inherited with the inn a large stock of
songs and jokes, which go with it from generation to generation
as heirlooms. He is a dapper little fellow, with bandy legs and
pot belly, a red face with a moist merry eye, and a little shock
of gray hair behind. At the opening of every club night he is
called in to sing his "Confession of Faith," which is the famous
old drinking trowl from "Gammer Gurton's Needle." He sings it, to
be sure, with many variations, as he received it from his
father's lips; for it has been a standing favorite at the
Half-Moon and Bunch of Grapes ever since it was written; nay, he
affirms that his predecessors have often had the honor of singing
it before the nobility and gentry at Christmas mummeries, when
Little Britain was in all its glory.*

* As mine host of the Half-Moon's Confession of Faith may not be
familiar to the majority of readers, and as it is a specimen of
the current songs of Little Britain, I subjoin it in its original
orthography. I would observe that the whole club always join in
the chorus with a fearful thumping on the table and clattering of
pewter pots.

I cannot eate but lytle meate,
My stomacke is not good,
But sure I thinke that I can drinke
With him that weares a hood.
Though I go bare, take ye no care,
I nothing am a colde,
I stuff my skyn so full within,
Of joly good ale and olde.
Chorus. Backe and syde go bare, go bare,
Both foote and hand go colde,
But, belly, God send thee good ale ynoughe,
Whether it be new or olde.

I have no rost, but a nut brawne toste
And a crab laid in the fyre;
A little breade shall do me steade,
Much breade I not desyre.
No frost nor snow, nor winde, I trowe,
Can hurte mee, if I wolde,
I am so wrapt and throwly lapt
Of joly good ale and olde.
Chorus. Backe and syde go bare, go bare, etc.

And Tyb my wife, that, as her lyfe,
Loveth well good ale to seeke,
Full oft drynkes shee, tyll ye may see,
The teares run downe her cheeke.
Then doth shee trowle to me the bowle,
Even as a mault-worme sholde,
And sayth, sweete harte, I took my parte
Of this jolly good ale and olde.
Chorus. Backe and syde go bare, go bare, etc.

Now let them drynke, tyll they nod and winke,
Even as goode fellowes sholde doe,
They shall not mysse to have the blisse,
Good ale doth bring men to;
And all poore soules that have scowred bowles,
Or have them lustily trolde,
God save the lyves of them and their wives,
Whether they be yonge or olde.
Chorus. Backe and syde go bare, go bare, etc.

It would do one's heart good to hear, on a club night, the shouts
of merriment, the snatches of song, and now and then the choral
bursts of half a dozen discordant voices, which issue from this
jovial mansion. At such times the street is lined with listeners,
who enjoy a delight equal to that of gazing into a confectioner's
window or snuffing up the steams of a cook-shop.

There are two annual events which produce great stir and
sensation in Little Britain: these are St. Bartholomew's Fair and
the Lord Mayor's Day. During the time of the Fair, which is held
in the adjoining regions of Smithfield, there is nothing going on
but gossiping and gadding about. The late quiet streets of Little
Britain are overrun with an irruption of strange figures and
faces; every tavern is a scene of rout and revel. The fiddle and
the song are heard from the taproom morning, noon, and night; and
at each window may be seen some group of boon companions, with
half-shut eyes, hats on one side, pipe in mouth and tankard in
hand, fondling and prosing, and singing maudlin songs over their
liquor. Even the sober decorum of private families, which I must
say is rigidly kept up at other times among my neighbors, is no
proof against this saturnalia. There is no such thing as keeping
maid-servants within doors. Their brains are absolutely set
madding with Punch and the Puppet-Show, the Flying Horses,
Signior Polito, the Fire-Eater, the celebrated Mr. Paap, and the
Irish Giant. The children too lavish all their holiday money in
toys and gilt gingerbread, and fill the house with the
Lilliputian din of drums, trumpets, and penny whistles.

But the Lord Mayor's Day is the great anniversary. The Lord Mayor
is looked up to by the inhabitants of Little Britain as the
greatest potentate upon earth, his gilt coach with six horses as
the summit of human splendor, and his procession, with all the
sheriffs and aldermen in his train, as the grandest of earthly
pageants. How they exult in the idea that the king himself dare
not enter the city without first knocking at the gate of Temple
Bar and asking permission of the Lord Mayor; for if he did,
heaven and earth! there is no knowing what might be the
consequence. The man in armor who rides before the Lord Mayor,
and is the city champion, has orders to cut down everybody that
offends against the dignity of the city; and then there is the
little man with a velvet porringer on his head, who sits at the
window of the state coach and holds the city sword, as long as a
pikestaff. Odd's blood! if he once draws that sword, Majesty
itself is not safe.

Under the protection of this mighty potentate, therefore, the
good people of Little Britain sleep in peace. Temple Bar is an
effectual barrier against all interior foes; and as to foreign
invasion, the Lord Mayor has but to throw himself into the Tower,
call in the train-bands, and put the standing army of Beef-eaters
under arms, and he may bid defiance to the world!

Thus wrapped up in its own concerns, its own habits, and its own
opinions, Little Britain has long flourished as a sound heart to
this great fungous metropolis. I have pleased myself with
considering it as a chosen spot, where the principles of sturdy
John Bullism were garnered up, like seed corn, to renew the
national character when it had run to waste and degeneracy. I
have rejoiced also in the general spirit of harmony that
prevailed throughout it; for though there might now and then be a
few clashes of opinion between the adherents of the cheesemonger
and the apothecary, and an occasional feud between the burial
societies, yet these were but transient clouds and soon passed
away. The neighbors met with good-will, parted with a shake of
the hand, and never abused each other except behind their backs.

I could give rare descriptions of snug junketing parties at which
I have been present, where we played at All-Fours, Pope-Joan,
Tom-come-tickle-me, and other choice old games, and where we
sometimes had a good old English country dance to the tune of Sir
Roger de Coverley. Once a year also the neighbors would gather
together and go on a gypsy party to Epping Forest. It would have
done any man's heart good to see the merriment that took place
here as we banqueted on the grass under the trees. How we made
the woods ring with bursts of laughter at the songs of little
Wagstaff and the merry undertaker! After dinner, too, the young
folks would play at blindman's-buff and hide-and-seek, and it was
amusing to see them tangled among the briers, and to hear a fine
romping girl now and then squeak from among the bushes. The elder
folks would gather round the cheesemonger and the apothecary to
hear them talk politics, for they generally brought out a
newspaper in their pockets to pass away time in the country. They
would now and then, to be sure, get a little warm in argument;
but their disputes were always adjusted by reference to a worthy
old umbrella-maker in a double chin, who, never exactly
comprehending the subject, managed somehow or other to decide in
favor of both parties.

All empires, however, says some philosopher or historian, are
doomed to changes and revolutions. Luxury and innovation creep
in, factions arise, and families now and then spring up whose
ambition and intrigues throw the whole system into confusion.
Thus in letter days has the tranquillity of Little Britain been
grievously disturbed and its golden simplicity of manners
threatened with total subversion by the aspiring family of a
retired butcher.

The family of the Lambs had long been among the most thriving and
popular in the neighborhood: the Miss Lambs were the belles of
Little Britain, and everybody was pleased when Old Lamb had made
money enough to shut up shop and put his name on a brass plate on
his door. In an evil hour, however, one of the Miss Lambs had the
honor of being a lady in attendance on the Lady Mayoress at her
grand annual ball, on which occasion she wore three towering
ostrich feathers on her head. The family never got over it; they
were immediately smitten with a passion for high life; set up a
one-horse carriage, put a bit of gold lace round the errand-boy's
hat, and have been the talk and detestation of the whole
neighborhood ever since. They could no longer be induced to play
at Pope-Joan or blindman's-buff; they could endure no dances but
quadrilles, which nobody had ever heard of in Little Britain; and
they took to reading novels, talking bad French, and playing upon
the piano. Their brother, too, who had been articled to an
attorney, set up for a dandy and a critic, characters hitherto
unknown in these parts, and he confounded the worthy folks
exceedingly by talking about Kean, the Opera, and the "Edinburgh

What was still worse, the Lambs gave a grand ball, to which they
neglected to invite any of their old neighbors; but they had a
great deal of genteel company from Theobald's Road, Red Lion
Square, and other parts towards the west. There were several
beaux of their brother's acquaintance from Gray's Inn Lane and
Hatton Garden, and not less than three aldermen's ladies with
their daughters. This was not to be forgotten or forgiven. All
Little Britain was in an uproar with the smacking of whips, the
lashing of in miserable horses, and the rattling and jingling of
hackney-coaches. The gossips of the neighborhood might be seen
popping their night-caps out at every window, watching the crazy
vehicles rumble by; and there was a knot of virulent old cronies
that kept a look-out from a house just opposite the retired
butcher's and scanned and criticised every one that knocked at
the door.

This dance was a cause of almost open war, and the whole
neighborhood declared they would have nothing more to say to the
Lambs. It is true that Mrs. Lamb, when she had no engagements
with her quality acquaintance, would give little humdrum
tea-junketings to some of her old cronies, "quite," as she would
say, "in a friendly way;" and it is equally true that her
invitations were always accepted, in spite of all previous vows
to the contrary. Nay, the good ladies would sit and be delighted
with the music of the Miss Lambs, who would condescend to strum
an Irish melody for them on the piano; and they would listen with
wonderful interest to Mrs. Lamb's anecdotes of Alderman Plunket's
family, of Portsoken Ward, and the Miss Timberlakes, the rich
heiresses of Crutched Friars but then they relieved their
consciences and averted the reproaches of their confederates by
canvassing at the next gossiping convocation everything that had
passed, and pulling the Lambs and their rout all to pieces.

The only one of the family that could not be made fashionable was
the retired butcher himself. Honest Lamb, in spite of the
meekness of his name, was a rough, hearty old fellow, with the
voice of a lion, a head of black hair like a shoe-brush, and a
broad face mottled like his own beef. It was in vain that the
daughters always spoke of him as "the old gentleman,' addressed
him as "papa" in tones of infinite softness, and endeavored to
coax him into a dressing-gown and slippers and other gentlemanly
habits. Do what they might, there was no keeping down the
butcher. His sturdy nature would break through all their
glozings. He had a hearty vulgar good-humor that was
irrepressible. His very jokes made his sensitive daughters
shudder, and he persisted in wearing his blue cotton coat of a
morning, dining at two o'clock, and having a "bit of sausage with
his tea."

He was doomed, however, to share the unpopularity of his family.
He found his old comrades gradually growing cold and civil to
him, no longer laughing at his jokes, and now and then throwing
out a fling at "some people" and a hint about "quality binding."
This both nettled and perplexed the honest butcher; and his wife
and daughters, with the consummate policy of the shrewder sex,
taking advantage of the circumstance, at length prevailed upon
him to give up his afternoon's pipe and tankard at Wagstaff's, to
sit after dinner by himself and take his pint of port--a liquor
he detested--and to nod in his chair in solitary and dismal

The Miss Lambs might now be seen flaunting along the streets in
French bonnets with unknown beaux, and talking and laughing so
loud that it distressed the nerves of every good lady within
hearing. They even went so far as to attempt patronage, and
actually induced a French dancing master to set up in the
neighborhood; but the worthy folks of Little Britain took fire at
it, and did so persecute the poor Gaul that he was fain to pack
up fiddle and dancing-pumps and decamp with such precipitation
that he absolutely forgot to pay for his lodgings.

I had flattered myself, at first, with the idea that all this
fiery indignation on the part of the community was merely the
overflowing of their zeal for good old English manners and their
horror of innovation, and I applauded the silent contempt they
were so vociferous in expressing for upstart pride, French
fashions and the Miss Lambs. But I grieve to say that I soon
perceived the infection had taken hold, and that my neighbors,
after condemning, were beginning to follow their example. I
overheard my landlady importuning her husband to let their
daughters have one quarter at French and music, and that they
might take a few lessons in quadrille. I even saw, in the course
of a few Sundays, no less than five French bonnets, precisely
like those of the Miss Lambs, parading about Little Britain.

I still had my hopes that all this folly would gradually die
away, that the Lambs might move out of the neighborhood, might
die, or might run away with attorneys' apprentices, and that
quiet and simplicity might be again restored to the community.
But unluckily a rival power arose. An opulent oilman died, and
left a widow with a large jointure and a family of buxom
daughters. The young ladies had long been repining in secret at
the parsimony of a prudent father, which kept down all their
elegant aspirings. Their ambition, being now no longer
restrained, broke out into a blaze, and they openly took the
field against the family of the butcher. It is true that the
Lambs, having had the first start, had naturally an advantage of
them in the fashionable career. They could speak a little bad
French, play the piano, dance quadrilles, and had formed high
acquaintances; but the Trotters were not to be distanced. When
the Lambs appeared with two feathers in their hats, the Miss
Trotters mounted four and of twice as fine colors. If the Lambs
gave a dance, the Trotters were sure not to be behindhand; and,
though they might not boast of as good company, yet they had
double the number and were twice as merry.

The whole community has at length divided itself into fashionable
factions under the banners of these two families. The old games
of Pope-Joan and Tom-come-tickle-me are entirely discarded; there
is no such thing as getting up an honest country dance; and on my
attempting to kiss a young lady under the mistletoe last
Christmas, I was indignantly repulsed, the Miss Lambs having
pronounced it "shocking vulgar." Bitter rivalry has also broken
out as to the most fashionable part of Little Britain, the Lambs
standing up for the dignity of Cross-Keys Square, and the
Trotters for the vicinity of St. Bartholomew's.

Thus is this little territory torn by factions and internal
dissensions, like the great empire whose name it bears; and what
will be the result would puzzle the apothecary himself, with all
his talent at prognostics, to determine, though I apprehend that
it will terminate in the total downfall of genuine John Bullism.

The immediate effects are extremely unpleasant to me. Being a
single man, and, as I observed before, rather an idle
good-for-nothing personage, I have been considered the only
gentleman by profession in the place. I stand therefore in high
favor with both parties, and have to hear all their cabinet
counsels and mutual backbitings. As I am too civil not to agree
with the ladies on all occasions, I have committed myself most
horribly with both parties by abusing their opponents. I might
manage to reconcile this to my conscience, which is a truly
accommodating one, but I cannot to my apprehension: if the Lambs
and Trotters ever come to a reconciliation and compare notes, I
am ruined!

I have determined, therefore, to beat a retreat in time, and am
actually looking out for some other nest in this great city where
old English manners are still kept up, where French is neither
eaten, drunk, danced, nor spoken, and where there are no
fashionable families of retired tradesmen. This found, I will,
like a veteran rat, hasten away before I have an old house about
my ears, bid a long, though a sorrowful adieu to my present
abode, and leave the rival factions of the Lambs and the Trotters
to divide the distracted empire of LITTLE BRITAIN.


Thou soft-flowing Avon, by thy silver stream
Of things more than mortal sweet Shakespeare would dream
The fairies by moonlight dance round his green bed,
For hallow'd the turf is which pillow'd his head.

TO a homeless man, who has no spot on this wide world which he
can truly call his own, there is a momentary feeling of something
like independence and territorial consequence when, after a weary
day's travel, he kicks off his boots, thrusts his feet into
slippers, and stretches himself before an inn-fire. Let the world
without go as it may, let kingdoms rise or fall, so long as he
has the wherewithal to pay his bill he is, for the time being,
the very monarch of all he surveys. The armchair is his throne,
the poker his sceptre, and the little parlor, some twelve feet
square, his undisputed empire. It is a morsel of certainly
snatched from the midst of the uncertainties of life; it is a
sunny moment gleaming out kindly on a cloudy day: and he who has
advanced some way on the pilgrimage of existence knows the
importance of husbanding even morsels and moments of enjoyment.
"Shall I not take mine ease in mine inn?" thought I, as I gave
the fire a stir, lolled back in my elbow-chair, and cast a
complacent look about the little parlor of the Red Horse at

The words of sweet Shakespeare were just passing through my mind
as the clock struck midnight from the tower of the church in
which he lies buried. There was a gentle tap at the door, and a
pretty chambermaid, putting in her smiling face, inquired, with a
hesitating air, whether I had rung. I understood it as a modest
hint that it was time to retire. My dream of absolute dominion
was at an end; so abdicating my throne, like a prudent potentate,
to avoid being deposed, and putting the Stratford Guide-Book
under my arm as a pillow companion, I went to bed, and dreamt all
night of Shakespeare, the jubilee, and David Garrick.

The next morning was one of those quickening mornings which we
sometimes have in early spring, for it was about the middle of
March. The chills of a long winter had suddenly given way; the
north wind had spent its last gasp; and a mild air came stealing
from the west, breathing the breath of life into Nature, and
wooing every bud and flower to burst forth into fragrance and

I had come to Stratford on a poetical pilgrimage. My first visit
was to the house where Shakespeare was born, and where, according
to tradition, he was brought up to his father's craft of
wool-combing. It is a small mean-looking edifice of wood and
plaster, a true nestling-place of genius, which seems to delight
in hatching its offspring in by-corners. The walls of its squalid
chambers are covered with names and inscriptions in every
language by pilgrims of all nations, ranks, and conditions, from
the prince to the peasant, and present a simple but striking
instance of the spontaneous and universal homage of mankind to
the great poet of Nature.

The house is shown by a garrulous old lady in a frosty red face,
lighted up by a cold blue, anxious eye, and garnished with
artificial locks of flaxen hair curling from under an exceedingly
dirty cap. She was peculiarly assiduous in exhibiting the relics
with which this, like all other celebrated shrines, abounds.
There was the shattered stock of the very matchlock with which
Shakespeare shot the deer on his poaching exploits. There, too,
was his tobacco-box, which proves that he was a rival smoker of
Sir Walter Raleigh: the sword also with which he played Hamlet;
and the identical lantern with which Friar Laurence discovered
Romeo and Juliet at the tomb. There was an ample supply also of
Shakespeare's mulberry tree, which seems to have as extraordinary
powers of self-multiplication as the wood of the true cross, of
which there is enough extant to build a ship of the line.

The most favorite object of curiosity, however, is Shakespeare's
chair. It stands in a chimney-nook of a small gloomy chamber just
behind what was his father's shop. Here he may many a time have
sat when a boy, watching the slowly revolving spit with all the
longing of an urchin, or of an evening listening to the cronies
and gossips of Stratford dealing forth churchyard tales and
legendary anecdotes of the troublesome times of England. In this
chair it is the custom of every one that visits the house to sit:
whether this be done with the hope of imbibing any of the
inspiration of the bard I am at a loss to say; I merely mention
the fact, and mine hostess privately assured me that, though
built of solid oak, such was the fervent zeal of devotees the
chair had to be new bottomed at least once in three years. It is
worthy of notice also, in the history of this extraordinary
chair, that it partakes something of the volatile nature of the
Santa Casa of Loretto, or the flying chair of the Arabian
enchanter; for, though sold some few years since to a northern
princess, yet, strange to tell, it has found its way back again
to the old chimney-corner.

I am always of easy faith in such matters, and am ever willing to
be deceived where the deceit is pleasant and costs nothing. I am
therefore a ready believer in relics, legends, and local
anecdotes of goblins and great men, and would advise all
travellers who travel for their gratification to be the same.
What is it to us whether these stories be true or false, so long
as we can persuade ourselves into the belief of them and enjoy
all the charm of the reality? There is nothing like resolute
good-humored credulity in these matters, and on this occasion I
went even so far as willingly to believe the claims of mine
hostess to a lineal descent from the poet, when, unluckily for my
faith, she put into my hands a play of her own composition, which
set all belief in her own consanguinity at defiance.

From the birthplace of Shakespeare a few paces brought me to his
grave. He lies buried in the chancel of the parish church, a
large and venerable pile, mouldering with age, but richly
ornamented. It stands on the banks of the Avon on an embowered
point, and separated by adjoining gardens from the suburbs of the
town. Its situation is quiet and retired; the river runs
murmuring at the foot of the churchyard, and the elms which grow
upon its banks droop their branches into its clear bosom. An
avenue of limes, the boughs of which are curiously interlaced, so
as to form in summer an arched way of foliage, leads up from the
gate of the yard to the church-porch. The graves are overgrown
with grass; the gray tombstones, some of them nearly sunk into
the earth, are half covered with moss, which has likewise tinted
the reverend old building. Small birds have built their nests
among the cornices and fissures of the walls, and keep up a
continual flutter and chirping; and rooks are sailing and cawing
about its lofty gray spire.

In the course of my rambles I met with the gray-headed sexton,
Edmonds, and accompanied him home to get the key of the church.
He had lived in Stratford, man and boy, for eighty years, and
seemed still to consider himself a vigorous man, with the trivial
exception that he had nearly lost the use of his legs for a few
years past. His dwelling was a cottage looking out upon the Avon
and its bordering meadows, and was a picture of that neatness,
order, and comfort which pervade the humblest dwellings in this
country. A low whitewashed room, with a stone floor carefully
scrubbed, served for parlor, kitchen, and hall. Rows of pewter
and earthen dishes glittered along the dresser. On an old oaken
table, well rubbed and polished, lay the family Bible and
prayer-book, and the drawer contained the family library,
composed of about half a score of well-thumbed volumes. An
ancient clock, that important article of cottage furniture,
ticked on the opposite side of the room, with a bright
warming-pan hanging on one side of it, and the old man's
horn-handled Sunday cane on the other. The fireplace, as usual,
was wide and deep enough to admit a gossip knot within its jambs.
In one corner sat the old man's granddaughter sewing, a pretty
blue-eyed girl, and in the opposite corner was a superannuated
crony whom he addressed by the name of John Ange, and who, I
found, had been his companion from childhood. They had played
together in infancy; they had worked together in manhood; they
were now tottering about and gossiping away the evening of life;
and in a short time they will probably be buried together in the
neighboring churchyard. It is not often that we see two streams
of existence running thus evenly and tranquilly side by side; it
is only in such quiet "bosom scenes" of life that they are to be
met with.

I had hoped to gather some traditionary anecdotes of the bard
from these ancient chroniclers, but they had nothing new to
impart. The long interval during which Shakespeare's writings lay
in comparative neglect has spread its shadow over his history,
and it is his good or evil lot that scarcely anything remains to
his biographers but a scanty handful of conjectures.

The sexton and his companion had been employed as carpenters on
the preparations for the celebrated Stratford Jubilee, and they
remembered Garrick, the prime mover of the fete, who
superintended the arrangements, and who, according to the sexton,
was "a short punch man, very lively and bustling." John Ange had
assisted also in cutting down Shakespeare's mulberry tree, of
which he had a morsel in his pocket for sale; no doubt a
sovereign quickener of literary conception.

I was grieved to hear these two worthy wights speak very
dubiously of the eloquent dame who shows the Shakespeare house.
John Ange shook his head when I mentioned her valuable and
inexhaustible collection of relics, particularly her remains of
the mulberry tree; and the old sexton even expressed a doubt as
to Shakespeare having been born in her house. I soon discovered
that he looked upon her mansion with an evil eye, as a rival to
the poet's tomb, the latter having comparatively but few
visitors. Thus it is that historians differ at the very outset,
and mere pebbles make the stream of truth diverge into different
channels even at the fountain-head.

We approached the church through the avenue of limes, and entered
by a Gothic porch, highly ornamented, with carved doors of
massive oak. The interior is spacious, and the architecture and
embellishments superior to those of most country churches. There
are several ancient monuments of nobility and gentry, over some
of which hang funeral escutcheons and banners dropping piecemeal
from the walls. The tomb of Shakespeare is in the chancel. The
place is solemn and sepulchral. Tall elms wave before the pointed
windows, and the Avon, which runs at a short distance from the
walls, keeps up a low perpetual murmur. A flat stone marks the
spot where the bard is buried. There are four lines inscribed on
it, said to have been written by himself, and which have in them
something extremely awful. If they are indeed his own, they show
that solicitude about the quiet of the grave which seems natural
to fine sensibilities and thoughtful minds:

Good friend, for Jesus' sake, forbeare
To dig the dust inclosed here.
Blessed be he that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.

Just over the grave, in a niche of the wall, is a bust of
Shakespeare, put up shortly after his death and considered as a
resemblance. The aspect is pleasant and serene, with a
finely-arched forehead; and I thought I could read in it clear
indications of that cheerful, social disposition by which he was
as much characterized among his contemporaries as by the vastness
of his genius. The inscription mentions his age at the time of
his decease, fifty-three years--an untimely death for the world,
for what fruit might not have been expected from the golden
autumn of such a mind, sheltered as it was from the stormy
vicissitudes of life, and flourishing in the sunshine of popular
and royal favor?

The inscription on the tombstone has not been without its effect.
It has prevented the removal of his remains from the bosom of his
native place to Westminster Abbey, which was at one time
contemplated. A few years since also, as some laborers were
digging to make an adjoining vault, the earth caved in, so as to
leave a vacant space almost like an arch, through which one might
have reached into his grave. No one, however, presumed to meddle
with his remains so awfully guarded by a malediction; and lest
any of the idle or the curious or any collector of relics should
be tempted to commit depredations, the old sexton kept watch over
the place for two days, until the vault was finished and the
aperture closed again. He told me that he had made bold to look
in at the hole, but could see neither coffin nor bones--nothing
but dust. It was something, I thought, to have seen the dust of

Next to this grave are those of his wife, his favorite daughter,
Mrs. Hall, and others of his family. On a tomb close by, also, is
a full-length effigy of his old friend John Combe, of usurious
memory, on whom he is said to have written a ludicrous epitaph.
There are other monuments around, but the mind refuses to dwell
on anything that is not connected with Shakespeare. His idea
pervades the place; the whole pile seems but as his mausoleum.
The feelings, no longer checked and thwarted by doubt, here
indulge in perfect confidence: other traces of him may be false
or dubious, but here is palpable evidence and absolute certainty.
As I trod the sounding pavement there was something intense and
thrilling in the idea that in very truth the remains of
Shakespeare were mouldering beneath my feet. It was a long time
before I could prevail upon myself to leave the place; and as I
passed through the churchyard I plucked a branch from one of the
yew trees, the only relic that I have brought from Stratford.

I had now visited the usual objects of a pilgrim's devotion, but
I had a desire to see the old family seat of the Lucys at
Charlecot, and to ramble through the park where Shakespeare, in
company with some of the roisterers of Stratford, committed his
youthful offence of deer-stealing. In this harebrained exploit we
are told that he was taken prisoner and carried to the keeper's
lodge, where he remained all night in doleful captivity. When
brought into the presence of Sir Thomas Lucy his treatment must
have been galling and humiliating; for it so wrought upon his
spirit as to produce a rough pasquinade which was affixed to the
park gate at Charlecot.*

This flagitious attack upon the dignity of the knight so incensed
him that he applied to a lawyer at Warwick to put the severity of
the laws in force against the rhyming deer-stalker. Shakespeare
did not wait to brave the united puissance of a knight of the
shire and a country attorney. He forthwith abandoned the pleasant
banks of the Avon and his paternal trade; wandered away to
London; became a hanger-on to the theatres; then an actor; and
finally wrote for the stage; and thus, through the persecution of
Sir Thomas Lucy, Stratford lost an indifferent wool-comber and
the world gained an immortal poet. He retained, however, for a
long time, a sense of the harsh treatment of the lord of
Charlecot, and revenged himself in his writings, but in the
sportive way of a good-natured mind. Sir Thomas is said to be the
original of Justice Shallow, and the satire is slyly fixed upon
him by the justice's armorial bearings, which, like those of the
knight, had white luces+ in the quarterings.

* The following is the only stanza extant of this lampoon:

A parliament member, a justice of peace,
At home a poor scarecrow, at London an asse,
If lowsie is Lucy, as some volke miscalle it,
Then Lucy is lowsie, whatever befall it.
He thinks himself great;
Yet an asse in his state,
We allow by his ears but with asses to mate,
If Lucy is lowsie, as some volke miscalle it,
Then sing lowsie Lucy whatever befall it.

+ The luce is a pike or jack, and abounds in the Avon about

Various attempts have been made by his biographers to soften and
explain away this, early transgression of the poet; but I look
upon it as one of those thoughtless exploits natural to his
situation and turn of mind. Shakespeare, when young, had
doubtless all the wildness and irregularity of an ardent,
undisciplined, and undirected genius. The poetic temperament has
naturally something in it of the vagabond. When left to itself it
runs loosely and wildly, and delights in everything eccentric and
licentious. It is often a turn up of a die, in the gambling
freaks of fate, whether a natural genius shall turn out a great
rogue or a great poet; and had not Shakespeare's mind fortunately
taken a literary bias, he might have as daringly transcended all
civil as he has all dramatic laws.

I have little doubt that, in early life, when running like an
unbroken colt about the neighborbood of Stratford, he was to be
found in the company of all kinds of odd anomalous characters,
that he associated with all the madcaps of the place, and was one
of those unlucky urchins at mention of whom old men shake their
heads and predict that they will one day come to the gallows. To
him the poaching in Sir Thomas Lucy's park was doubtless like a
foray to a Scottish knight, and struck his eager, and as yet
untamed, imagination as something delightfully adventurous.*

* A proof of Shakespeare's random habits and associates in his
youthful days may be found in a traditionary anecdote, picked up
at Stratford by the elder Ireland, and mentioned in his
"Picturesque Views on the Avon."

About seven miles from Stratford lies the thirsty little
market-town of Bedford, famous for its ale. Two societies of the
village yeomanry used to meet, under the appellation of the
Bedford topers, and to challenge the lovers of good ale of the
neighboring villages to a contest of drinking. Among others, the
people of Stratford were called out to prove the strength of
their heads; and in the number of the champions was Shakespeare,
who, in spite of the proverb that "they who drink beer will think
beer," was as true to his ale as Falstaff to his sack. The
chivalry of Stratford was staggered at the first onset, and
sounded a retreat while they had yet the legs to carry them off
the field. They had scarcely marched a mile when, their legs
failing them, they were forced to lie down under a crab tree,
where they passed the night. It was still standing, and goes by
the name of Shakespeare's tree.

In the morning his companions awaked the bard, and proposed
returning to Bedford, but he declined, saying he had enough,
having drank with

Piping Pebworth, Dancing Marston,
Haunted Hilbro', Hungry Grafton,
Dudging Exhall, Papist Wicksford,
Beggarly Broom, and Drunken Bedford.

"The villages here alluded to," says Ireland, "still bear the
epithets thus given them: the people of Pebworth are still famed
for their skill on the pipe and tabor; Hilborough is now called
Haunted Hilborough; and Grafton is famous for the poverty of its

The old mansion of Charlecot and its surrounding park still
remain in the possession of the Lucy family, and are peculiarly
interesting front being connected with this whimsical but
eventful circumstance in the scanty history of the bard. As the
house stood at little more than three miles' distance from
Stratford, I resolved to pay it a pedestrian visit, that I might
stroll leisurely through some of those scenes from which
Shakespeare must have derived his earliest ideas of rural

The country was yet naked and leafless, but English scenery is
always verdant, and the sudden change in the temperature of the
weather was surprising in its quickening effects upon the
landscape. It was inspiring and animating to witness this first
awakening of spring; to feel its warm breath stealing over the
senses; to see the moist mellow earth beginning to put forth the
green sprout and the tender blade, and the trees and shrubs, in
their reviving tints and bursting buds, giving the promise of
returning foliage and flower. The cold snow-drop, that little
borderer on the skirts of winter, was to be seen with its chaste
white blossoms in the small gardens before the cottages. The
bleating of the new-dropt lambs was faintly heard from the
fields. The sparrow twittered about the thatched eaves and
budding hedges; the robin threw a livelier note into his late
querulous wintry strain; and the lark, springing up from the
reeking bosom of the meadow, towered away into the bright fleecy
cloud, pouring forth torrents of melody. As I watched the little
songster mounting up higher and higher, until his body was a mere
speck on the white bosom of the cloud, while the ear was still
filled with his music, it called to mind Shakespeare's exquisite
little song in Cymbeline:

Hark! hark! the lark at heav'n's gate sings,
And Phoebus 'gins arise,
His steeds to water at those springs,
On chaliced flowers that lies.

And winking mary-buds begin
To ope their golden eyes;
With every thing that pretty bin,
My lady sweet arise!

Indeed, the whole country about here is poetic ground: everything
is associated with the idea of Shakespeare. Every old cottage
that I saw I fancied into some resort of his boyhood, where he
had acquired his intimate knowledge of rustic life and manners,
and heard those legendary tales and wild superstitions which he
has woven like witchcraft into his dramas. For in his time, we
are told, it was a popular amusement in winter evenings "to sit
round the fire, and tell merry tales of errant knights, queens,
lovers, lords, ladies, giants, dwarfs, thieves, cheaters,
witches, fairies, goblins, and friars."*

* Scot, in his "Discoverie of Witchcraft," enumerates a of these
fireside fancies: "And they have so fraid us with host
bull-beggars, spirits, witches, urchins, elves, hags, fairies,
satyrs, pans, faunes, syrens, kit with the can sticke, tritons,
centaurs, dwarfes, giantes, imps, calcars, conjurors, nymphes,
changelings, incubus, Robin-goodfellow, the spoorne, the mare,
the man in the oke, the hell-waine, the fier drake, the puckle,
Tom Thombe, hobgoblins, Tom Tumbler, boneless, and such other
bugs, that we were afraid of our own shadowes."

My route for a part of the way lay in sight of the Avon, which
made a variety of the most fancy doublings and windings through a
wide and fertile valley--sometimes glittering from among willows
which fringed its borders; sometimes disappearing among groves or
beneath green banks; and sometimes rambling out into full view
and making an azure sweep round a slope of meadow-land. This
beautiful bosom of country is called the Vale of the Red Horse. A
distant line of undulating blue hills seems to be its boundary,
whilst all the soft intervening landscape lies in a manner
enchained in the silver links of the Avon.

After pursuing the road for about three miles, I turned off into
a footpath, which led along the borders of fields and under
hedgerows to a private gate of the park; there was a stile,
however, for the benefit of the pedestrian, there being a public
right of way through the grounds. I delight in these hospitable
estates, in which every one has a kind of property--at least as
far as the footpath is concerned. It in some measure reconciles a
poor man to his lot, and, what is more, to the better lot of his
neighbor, thus to have parks and pleasure-grounds thrown open for
his recreation. He breathes the pure air as freely and lolls as
luxuriously under the shade as the lord of the soil; and if he
has not the privilege of calling all that he sees his own, he has
not, at the same time, the trouble of paying for it and keeping
it in order.

I now found myself among noble avenues of oaks and elms, whose
vast size bespoke the growth of centuries. The wind sounded
solemnly among their branches, and the rooks cawed from their
hereditary nests in the tree-tops. The eye ranged through a long
lessening vista, with nothing to interrupt the view but a distant
statue and a vagrant deer stalking like a shadow across the

There is something about these stately old avenues that has the
effect of Gothic architecture, not merely from the pretended
similarity of form, but from their bearing the evidence of long
duration, and of having had their origin in a period of time with
which we associate ideas of romantic grandeur. They betoken also
the long-settled dignity and proudly-concentrated independence of
an ancient family; and I have heard a worthy but aristocratic old
friend observe, when speaking of the sumptuous palaces of modern
gentry, that "money could do much with stone and mortar, but
thank Heaven! there was no such thing as suddenly building up an
avenue of oaks."

It was from wandering in early life among this rich scenery, and
about the romantic solitudes of the adjoining park of Fullbroke,
which then formed a part of the Lucy estate, that some of
Shakepeare's commentators have supposed he derived his noble
forest meditations of Jaques and the enchanting woodland pictures
in "As You Like It." It is in lonely wanderings through such
scenes that the mind drinks deep but quiet draughts of
inspiration, and becomes intensely sensible of the beauty and
majesty of Nature. The imagination kindles into reverie and
rapture, vague but exquisite images and ideas keep breaking upon
it, and we revel in a mute and almost incommunicable luxury of
thought. It was in some such mood, and perhaps under one of those
very trees before me, which threw their broad shades over the
grassy banks and quivering waters of the Avon, that the poet's
fancy may have sallied forth into that little song which breathes
the very soul of a rural voluptuary

Unto the greenwood tree,
Who loves to lie with me
And tune his merry throat
Unto the sweet bird's note,
Come hither, come hither, come hither.
Here shall he see
No enemy,
But winter and rough weather.

I had now come in sight of the house. It is a large building of
brick with stone quoins, and is in the Gothic style of Queen
Elizabeth's day, having been built in the first year of her
reign. The exterior remains very nearly in its original state,
and may be considered a fair specimen of the residence of a
wealthy country gentleman of those days. A great gateway opens
from the park into a kind of courtyard in front of the house,
ornamented with a grassplot, shrubs, and flower-beds. The gateway
is in imitation of the ancient barbacan, being a kind of outpost
and flanked by towers, though evidently for mere ornament,
instead of defence. The front of the house is completely in the
old style with stone-shafted casements, a great bow-window of
heavy stone-work, and a portal with armorial bearings over it
carved in stone. At each corner of the building is an octagon
tower surmounted by a gilt ball and weather-cock.

The Avon, which winds through the park, makes a bend just at the
foot of a gently-sloping bank which sweeps down from the rear of
the house. Large herds of deer were feeding or reposing upon its
borders, and swans were sailing majestically upon its bosom. As I
contemplated the venerable old mansion I called to mind
Falstaff's encomium on Justice Shallow's abode, and the affected
indifference and real vanity of the latter:

"Falstaff. You have a goodly dwelling and a rich.
"Shallow. Barren, barren, barren; beggars all, beggars all, Sir
John:--marry, good air"

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